Wisdom is in short supply when the Honourable Louisa Rainley and twins Lord James and Lady Susan Haythe are launched into London's fashionable society in the spring of 1818. They are quickly nicknamed "the three wise monkeys" for their individual tendencies to 'hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil'.
The Haythe twins, siblings of the new Marquess of Cheriton, are confident that London will be at their feet before a month is out. Louisa Rainley is not so certain. Of a more practical, and mature, nature than her friends, Louisa can envisage problems that might complicate their debut. Susan will not listen to advice, and James sees only good in everyone.
Two years before she had imagined herself in love with Nicholas Haythe, the Marquess of Cheriton. She is convinced the infatuation has passed and she has no desire to spend more time than is necessary in his company. Lord Cheriton is old beyond his years, encumbered by his father's death, his new responsibilities and memories of his service with Wellington's army. Now he feels burdened by the charge of the three young people on their come-out. His brother and sister he can discipline, but Louisa he cannot control, any more than he can control his growing feelings for her.
Wisdom is a hard-won commodity, and sometimes the cost is substantial. But if they are to find success and happiness the three "monkeys," and the rest of their family, must be wise enough to accept love, in all its guises.
Louisa did not see the twins for three days, and it was a week before she had opportunity to discuss their new situation with Susan. The entire family was invited by Nicholas to join him for dinner and a trip to the Drury Lane theatre. It was rather like the event which had opened their Season, but so much had happened since then, Louisa felt herself a different person.
She was grieved by Nicholas' formality on their meeting. He was kind, even avuncular, but distant. Her appearance in a beautiful new gown of gold tissue and ivory padusoy left him apparently unmoved, and he seemed unaware of her flirtatious curls. Disappointment shivered under her fashionable bodice, but she pushed aside her emotion as she and Susan tucked themselves into a corner of the drawing room to share their news.
"How do you go on?" Louisa said. Her restless gaze observed the company which had become her family, even as she spoke.
"Grandmama is marvelously astute and Cousin Lydia the greatest fun," Susan said with something of wonderment. "It is no punishment that Nicholas has meted out. I wonder if he knew?"
They stared across the chamber at Cheriton. He was speaking with his grandmother and tossed back his head as he laughed aloud at her words. Louisa's heart trembled. He was more like the man she had fallen in love with nearly two years previous than he had been at Shardleigh in the past summer. He was less dull, more charming, more ready to laugh...altogether appealing.
She drew her attention back to Susan's words. "...do you find the Valences?" was all she heard.
Susan was watching the baron join her grandmother and her brother.
"I...it is pleasant enough. Certainly Lord Valence is kindness itself, though Felicity seems preoccupied, troubled. She will not ride out with me. Miss Valence..."
Louisa choked on a giggle. "Susan!"
"Rude Rebecca? Rumbustious Rebecca?"
"Susan!" begged Louisa, torn from her melancholy and failed to suppress her scandalized laughter.
Nicholas and Valence stared across at them; the dowager's rapier glance was quelling.
Louisa ordered her face to tranquility, and Susan did the same.
Louisa whispered, "Miss Valence is...difficult. She looks at me as though I should be returned to the schoolroom, or given a place in the servants' hall." She would not say more, but life was not without challenges in Chapel Street.
Louisa found Rebecca irreverent, proud and disdainful. She flirted shockingly with any gentleman who displayed an inclination, gambled, snooped, and slandered her acquaintance. She paid little heed to her brother, who responded in kind, only occasionally chafing or castigating her. She treated Felicity with a careless affection, for--like Felicity--she seemed always to be restless, and always in search of diversion.
Accustomed to the kindly support of her sister-in-law's family' Louisa could find nothing to admire in Rebecca Valence's manner or style. But the problem was readily solved: she simply avoided the woman.
"She is a termagant. And look how Nicholas is taken up with her," Susan said.